Back in January, in preparation for my daughter’s 13th birthday, I told her to start thinking about how she’d like to celebrate. I then proceeded to ask her on almost a daily basis what she’d like to do, always with her saying she didn’t know yet. After about a week, she looked at me and said, “Mom! That is forever away. I have no idea. Can we talk about this later?”
Her birthday is in March.
In my defense, her dad was deployed and her brother’s birthday is literally ONE day ahead of hers. I had several balls in the air, and if I wanted to keep juggling them all, I had to start planning early. I left the topic alone for a while, totally expecting her to come back with the idea of a sleepover with her girlfriends. I was prepared to spend weeks trying to get my mind right, to handling back-to-back birthdays and a weekend of teenage girls. One fine day in early March, she runs downstairs and announces,
“I finally know what I want to do for my birthday!!! I want to go to the North Carolina Museum of Art!”
She wanted to do WHAT?!
The 3 Musketeers! My kids: Captain, Queen Llama, and RC. Rare moment where all of them are smiling.
Now, between you and me, in my world visiting a museum falls on the list of “I’d-rather-get-a-paper-cut-on-my-tongue-than-do-THIS.” I love learning about the history of things, but I’d rather do it through my own research and a good documentary. Museums bore me to tears. But I took a deep breath, plastered the best smile I could muster on my face, and decided that if the Art Museum is what she wants, the Art Museum is what she’d get. I’d given birth three times; I could do this. I’m a strong person.
Even though her birthday is March 30 and we DID celebrate properly, a series of unfortunate events didn’t allow us to actually MAKE it to the NCMA until two weekends ago. And guess what??
I actually had FUN. We all did! We kind of fell in love.
The museum has two buildings, walking trails, outside sculptures, and a restaurant on site. We spent most of our time in West Building, which houses the museum’s permanent collection. We learned about art from Africa, Italy, France, America. and other places that I just can’t remember. We laughed; we asked each other’s interpretation; we learned; and we taught each other. There was a moment when I was looking at a piece that was painted in the 1600s and just couldn’t wrap my head around something that beautiful existing for such a long time. And that my children and I were sitting there staring at it. It was a profound moment, and I was proud to have given my children this experience all on my own … instead of it being a class field trip.
Queen Llama took this photo of the sculptures in West Building.
When we came to the African art, there was a group of children there that had been training to be docents. One of their instructors asked if I would mind asking them questions and engaging them in conversation about the kente cloth, so they could sharpen their skills. The children were incredibly knowledgeable, had note cards, and were hilarious with their innocent and much too honest answers. For example, there was a staff that was made with hair. One of the docents shared, “And here we have a staff, you’ll notice the gray hair. They must have gotten it from someone OLD.” We made sure to find out where their art was shown over in East Building before we left.
The beautiful kente cloth and staffs that the children docents shared their knowledge about.
East Building is where more contemporary American artists are shown. There was more photography, abstract and interpretive art. It is also where exhibits that are housed for a short time are placed. We noticed a class for children, as well as many pieces of art from various local schools on display. We chose to not see the exhibit that was offered currently, Marks of Genius. We plan to go back over the summer and see the next exhibit.
I was impressed by how many different activities they have going! Plenty to keep the kids entertained, tours, and classes. There are workshops geared toward teens, as well as music and theater events. They had Stories in the Gallery, where young children walked to a specific piece of art, learned about the piece, and listened to a story about said art. We didn’t attend (it was for the 4 to 6 age range), but we did pass them a few times during their story, and it was SUPER cute and interactive.
Queen Llama, the birthday girl
Some interesting things they have coming up, especially if you live in Raleigh:
Painting by iona rozeal brown in West Building
* Summer Films Series: Among others, Inside Out, Zootopia, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens stand out as family nights watching a movie in the Museum Park Theater.
* Summer Camps & Workshops (ages 6–13): Themes that range from Knights & Princesses to Selfies, and everything in between.
* Family Fun Saturday Workshops (ages 5–11): Families get a tour of the gallery and then create related art in the studio.
* Saturday Studio (ages 11–14): Explore the museum’s collection; then get creative together with new materials and processes.
* Family Camp Out & Movie: Camp out at the museum! The May 21 event sold out, and the next camp out is June 11. I’m looking forward to trying this out, and I don’t even like camping. It sounds like a fun adventure, though.
All in all, it was an excellent trip. The kids were wowed, and I was pleasantly surprised by how interesting it was. Not at all the stuffy, quiet, library-esque scene that I imagined.
The only thing that was less than desired was the parking situation. We arrived around noon on a Saturday, and parking was VERY sparse. It may have been because there was a wedding with designated parking at the time. They have overflow parking, but we couldn’t find it! It seemed like after a while the arrows stopped pointing us toward the additional parking. We don’t live in Raleigh, so it could have just been that we weren’t familiar enough with the area. But once we finally did get a spot in the main parking area, it was smooth sailing from there!
It took us about two hours to get through both buildings, and that was without seeing the paid exhibits. Entry and parking were free, although there are places to make a donation in each building.
We can’t wait to visit art museums in other locations to compare and explore! I think we’ve found a new family tradition… Art Museum followed by a movie! (Captain America: Civil War was the cinematic choice this time… another WIN!)
Thanks for a wonderful time, NCMA! We can’t wait to come back.
Editor's note: A slightly different version of this post appeared on Kia Young's The Experience Life blog. Read more about Kia.